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Fort McMurray wildfire behaviour expected to be ‘subdued’ with cooler temperatures, rain

Click to play video: 'Alberta Wildfire video shows overnight helicopter firefighting efforts'
Alberta Wildfire video shows overnight helicopter firefighting efforts
WATCH ABOVE: Video from Alberta Wildfire shows helicopters fighting the fire near Fort McMurray with night vision-equipped helicopters – May 17, 2024

Alberta Wildfire officials said Friday they expect rain and cooler temperatures to help crews battling the Fort McMurray wildfire.

In an update Friday morning, Alberta Wildfire information officer Josee St-Onge said the size of wildfire was revised down to 19,582 hectares from 19,820 hectares on Thursday.

“There was minimal growth on the fire yesterday and fire activity was low,” St-Onge said.

The fire is still about 4.5 kilometres from highways 61 and 881, and about 5.5 kilometres from the Fort McMurray landfill site.

Officials expect wildfire behaviour to be “subdued” on Friday with cloud cover, cooler temperatures and rain. The next few days show anywhere between 20 and 80 millimetres of rain for the region by Tuesday.

“This rain makes a big difference,” St-Onge said. “It will bring fire behaviour down so we’re much less likely to see intense fire activity. So that means open flame that can catch trees on fire. That kind of fire activity is much less likely when we get this kind of rain.”

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The temperature is expected to be 7 C in Fort McMurray in Friday, with five to 15 mm of rain. Officials said between 8.7 and 10.3 mm had already fallen in the region overnight.

Winds are expected to be out of the northeast on Friday, with speeds of 20 km/h.

“The recent rain has lowered the fire danger in the Fort McMurray area. The fire ban remains in effect, as well as an off-highway vehicle restriction,” St-Onge said.

“The need for these restrictions will be reevaluated, but for the time being we ask all residents to continue doing their part to prevent wildfires and to follow the restrictions.”

Click to play video: 'Fort McMurray wildfire: Evacuees eased as crews, weather douse flames'
Fort McMurray wildfire: Evacuees eased as crews, weather douse flames

There are 224 firefighters, 22 helicopters and 57 pieces of heavy equipment currently assigned to the fire.

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About 6,600 residents were forced to flee their homes on Tuesday afternoon due to the out-of-control wildfire. The Fort McMurray communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace and Prairie Creek remain under an evacuation order.

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Officials said they expect the evacuation order will remain in place until at least Tuesday. Director of emergency management chief Jody Butz said Friday that plans are underway to determine when residents will be allowed to return home.

“The unified command team are working on a plan to determine when evacuated areas will be able to return safely,” Butz said.

“When it is safe to do so, we will lift the evacuation order for Prairie Creek, Abasand, Beacon Hill and Grayling Terrace.”

He went on to say there is a possibility the return date could be moved, but safety remains the top priority and a return plan will be shared with the public as soon as it is available.

Butz said all of the schools in non-evacuated areas will be open for students on Tuesday. Schools in the evacuation zone remain closed until further notice, he said.

Butz said RCMP special tactical operations visited the evacuated neighbourhoods on Thursday and “no damages were observed or reported.”

“When you return home, your neighbourhoods will look exactly the same. All utilities, including natural gas and power remain connected for each one of these neighbourhoods,” he said.

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As of 2 p.m. Friday, Alberta Wildfire said 2,690 evacuees and 379 pets had registered at reception centres in Edmonton, Lac La Biche and Cold Lake.

Around-the-clock work continues on a containment line to complete a fire break between the Athabasca River and Horse River.

For the latest information on which areas in Alberta are under an evacuation alert or order due to a wildfire, visit the Alberta Emergency Alert website.

For the latest information on the wildfire status and danger across the province, visit the Alberta Wildfire website.

The latest information on fire advisories, restrictions and bans across the province can be found on the Alberta fire bans website.

Alberta Wildfire said Friday, May 17, 2024 that structure protection has been completed in the Abasand, Prairie Creek and Beacon Hill neighbourhoods, as well as on the Rickards Landing Industrial Park, Gregoire Lake Estates and Gregoire Lake 176. Courtesy / Alberta Wildfire
Alberta Wildfire said Friday, May 17, 2024 that structure protection has been completed in the Abasand, Prairie Creek and Beacon Hill neighbourhoods, as well as on the Rickards Landing Industrial Park, Gregoire Lake Estates and Gregoire Lake 176. Courtesy / Alberta Wildfire

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